Startups face no shortage of uncertainty. And nothing creates more uncertainty than when you’re going through a pivot.

The process can be a soul-wrenching, frustrating, and nail-biting ordeal that wants to kick you to the curb and convince you that the whole startup thing was never worth it. That is, if you let it.

At the same time, if you have the right attitude, a pivot can also be period of intense personal and professional growth – a unique learning experience that can serve you well throughout the rest of your career.

I’ve gone through a pivot before. And I’m in the middle of another as I write this. Here are seven lessons I’ve learned that have helped me stay positive along the way.

Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy

Look, I know that you don’t want building your company to be any harder than it has to be. But surviving a major challenge like a pivot will make success all that much sweeter.

Think of it this way – which NCAA basketball team is going to be more satisfied at winning the championship: the “dream team” that breezed its way through the season? or the scrappy second-tier team that made its way to the top through sheer effort and determination?

The 1980 USA Winter Olympics hockey team had the kind of determination that any startup going through a pivot should emulate.
In the 1980 Winter Olympics, the amateur USA team defeated the Russian team of experienced pros in one of the greatest comeback moments of all time. Source: Sports Illustrated

It’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to put a ton of hard work into building your company. Don’t let the prospect of even more hard work scare you. Instead, know that if you’re successful, you’ll only be that much more satisfied if you’ve had to crush a few challenges along the way.

You May Not Realize How Close You Are To Success

Pivots are periods filled with unknowns. I think our temptation as humans is to view unknowns with fear. But an unknown future is just as likely to be better than the present as it is worse.

Communications software company Slack was a failed gaming studio before it pivoted. Nintendo used to make vacuum cleaners. Groupon attempted a fundraising site before it switched to coupons.

I doubt any of the teams at those companies had any idea just how great things could get once they shifted gears. But I can guarantee you that if they chose to see unknowns as a negative and given up, those new products never would have seen the light of day.

You’ll Learn More About Yourself During A Pivot Than At Any Other Time

Plato is famous for saying, “above all else, know yourself.” Well, now’s your chance.

Put yourself in a tough situation and you’ll quickly find out what you’re really made of. How do you handle stress? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Are you able to think strategically or do you simply react? How do you treat the people around you?

A pivot can be a great opportunity to highlight your shortcomings so you can figure out how you need to grow. It won’t be comfortable, but it’s necessary if you want to become better. Think of a stressful pivot as an “accelerated self-awareness opportunity” (how’s that for a euphemism?) in which you’ll learn more about yourself in a few months than you normally might in half a decade.

There’s more than one way to know yourself better, but a few ideas that have worked for me are keeping a journal, meditation (the Headspace app is great), prayer, and the book How Successful People Grow  by John Maxwell.

Failure and Rejection Are Part of Business

Much of business is outside your control – politics, the economy, your competition (which you have limited knowledge of), heck, even the weather can screw things up. Oh, and your business is run by people, all of whom are just as fallible as you are!

Even the best entrepreneurs have made huge mistakes or faced massive rejection. Peter Thiel lost 90% of his $7 billion investment fund. Jack Ma was refused employment as a police officer and at KFC. Steve Jobs was forced out from his own company. Yes, the fact that you’re having to pivot your business sucks. Just don’t forget that nearly everyone else who’s tried to run a company has dealt with something similar.

Jack Ma's perseverance is worth emulating for anyone going through a pivot
Jack Ma has been rejected more than anyone I’ve come across. Yet today, he’s China’s richest man. Source: Nguyen Huudong

If business was easy, then companies would last forever, earnings would always go up in a straight line, and everyone and your brother would be running a company. But I don’t have to tell you that those couldn’t be further from the truth. So don’t get down on yourself when things don’t go as expected – that’s how the game works.

This Won’t Be The Last Time You Deal With Challenge

Have this thought run through your mind? “If I quit now and started this other company, then I wouldn’t have to deal with this.” You’re wrong.

Sooner or later, any company will face its share of challenges. If you become the kind of person who flees every time things get tough, then you’re not going to get far in business. No one wants to hire someone with thin skin, and they especially don’t want to invest in one.

Training yourself to deal with and push through challenges is one of the best things you can do to develop your character. Quitting now is short-changing yourself of a great opportunity to develop your perseverance: one of the most important characteristics of any entrepreneur.

Note: please don’t interpret the above to mean that you should never shut down a company until the bank’s banging down your door. There are plenty of times when closing things down is the best option, but “things got too hard” shouldn’t be of them.

A Pivot Might Be The Perfect Reason to Learn Something New

Chances are that you don’t know everything you need to know in order to pull off a pivot. Maybe the new direction you want to head will require you to learn something entirely new – or just get awesome at something you’re merely OK at. Either way, what better time to improve your skill set!

It doesn’t matter what role you play in your company – there’s always something new to learn. And don’t ever convince yourself that you’re an “expert” in anything – that’s a surefire way to get stale.

How You Handle A Pivot Will Determine Your Company’s Culture

You might think that surviving a pivot is the only thing that matters right now. But I would argue that how you survive it is just as important.

If you can show your team that you have a good process for handling change, then they’ll be much likely to rally behind you when you go through it again. (Hint: you probably will). But if you’re only able to survive a pivot by fostering negativity and fear among your team, then don’t expect them to hang around the next time thing get tough.

For Further Reading

Thanks for reading my thoughts on going through a pivot. But others have even better advice, and if you’d like to read some of it yourself, here a few books I’d recommend:

Have you gone through a pivot yourself? If so, what’s helped you keep yourself and your team motivated? Let me know if the comments.